Bad press

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

14 September 2003

The Grimsby Telegraph has long been as big a part of a Town fan's armoury as a shite meat pie and a tendency to be a tad pessimistic. In my lifetime Messrs Ford, Kirkby, Lowther, McKinnon and Rowson have all had what I consider the Best Job In The World - that of Grimsby Town football correspondent. Getting paid (decent?) money plus expenses for meeting their idols everyday and watching them in all four corners of the Football League is a privileged position and one that all Town fans would love to occupy.

As the media world has spectacularly fragmented and Town fans have been able to access news immediately from a variety of sources, the Telegraph has looked to compete. Telegraph sports editor Geoff Ford, in an interview with me for a university project in 1996, forecast as much. So what have they done, apart from drop the word 'Evening' from their masthead?

Well, they have gone online - successfully - and er, that's it. Oh no, sorry - they have turned into a tabloid, a newspaper not unlike its Daily Mail owners, always looking for 'exclusives' and sensationalising stories. This has been noticeable across the paper, but more so in the sports pages. The back of any newspaper has always been a world of tittle-tattle but the Telegraph just brought us the humdrum news from DN35 and the odd very well-written letter from a student.

But when fans starting getting their news before the paper was printed, they had to look for a different angle, put some spin on old news. Enter Stuart Rowson, a man not afraid to mix his metaphors and confuse his readers. His (now invisible) press pass allowed him privileged information that he has created mayhem with. And now he has got his come-uppance.

About time too. For too long now his reporting of Town has been poorly written, misleading, sensationalist and inaccurate. He is obviously writing with a view to being snared by a 'national', which I doubt very much will happen.

OK, so Blundell Park without an ambulance is hardly inspiring but I am sure that I was not alone last week spotting at least four green-suited humans who seemed more than adequately prepared for any occurrence while an ambulance could be called. In fact, in the two incidents cited in the Telegraph - Martin Pringle's broken leg and Steve Livingstone's fractured skull - an ambulance was not actually needed immediately, was it.

And would one ambulance be able to deal effectively with a brawl in the Upper Findus? The only time I have ever felt unsafe at a Town match was in 1990 when the Pontoon was on fire and we sang to the opposition: "We're on fire, we're on fire, you're not." Couldn't even fit an ambulance in the ground then.

Credit where it's due, though: the Up The Mariners campaign was a success (and I dare say sold a few t-shirts!) and instigated some much-needed delirium. But more recently the coverage of John Oster saga was not a success and treated the club as if it were shite and didn't care. Yep, Stuart, not signing Oster was the reason we were relegated last season and not the abysmal defending and negative tactics.

The Telegraph reports that Rowson helped initiate the purchase of shares and donated the first £1,000. I am sure Dave Otter and friends at the supporters' trust would have something to say about that. It also states that the new Matchday pullout is supporting the club, but how much profit from any increased sales has been used to buy more shares? And it's shite. Eight pages, they trumpet - of which one is the front page and most of the rest is taken from websites or the Press Association.

But the thing that really smarts about this is the Telegraph calling Rowson "Town's biggest fan". He supports Town as much as I support Man United. A big Town fan would not fill his copy with errors that the most casual Mariner would spot. I give you: Town's last meeting with Peterborough "13 years ago" despite games in 1993 and 1994. Bristol City played Cardiff in the play-off semi, not the final. Major cup runs two years late. It's shite. But not as shite as his match reports, where he insists on tying himself in metaphorical knots. You are not Tony Butcher, mate, who is probably somewhat bigger a Town fan.

A lot has been argued about the 'power' of the Telegraph and the fact that Town need the paper. Not true. If there were no GTFC (and don't rule it out, my pessimistic cohort) then I doubt whether the Telegraph would sell as many papers. The plain truth is that the Telegraph is just one of many sources of information for Town fans, and that we can obtain news and reports from a plethora of other media.

I already buy the Sun, so the Telegraph's ever-increasing desire to sensationalise just grates (I can't wait for its 12-page daily coverage of the Soham trial). The Telegraph has to get back to basics and stop alienating its readership - while it still has one.

Is Paul right, or has the club gone too far by banning Stuart Rowson? Maybe there's right and wrong on both sides? Use the Cod Almighty feedback form to tell us your thoughts.